Why the Tories will win the prison expansion political battle

Posted on January 12, 2011 in Child & Family Debates

Source: — Authors:

NationalPost.com – FullComment/Canada
January 12, 2011.   Matt Gurney

The federal Conservatives’ plan to spend $150-million over the next several years adding to prison facilities across the country, part of a larger $2-billion expansion to Canada’s penitentiaries, favours incarceration over rehabilitation, and might turn dumb kids into hardened criminals. Our crime rate is trending down. It’s the politics of fear, say the opposition parties. It’s political pandering to the Tories tough-on-crime base, they say. It plays into the “mean-spirited” narrative the Conservatives have worked to avoid with generous grants and blue sweaters. Even once the prisons are built, the annual cost of housing the prisoners and staffing the facilitities will add millions of dollars in costs while providing little, if any, societal benefits, say the critics.

Every one of those charges might be true. But the Tories will win this battle, anyway. So long as our criminal justice system keeps giving average voters a reason to want to see the system “fixed,” the party promising to do that will get the votes.

The examples are numerous and depressing. Flipping through the headlines reveals a disconnect between what seems like justice and the sentences actually being meted out:

Canadians are fair people, willing to give a prisoner a chance. But that fairness must apply both ways — not just for criminals, but also to their victims, and society. Rehabilitation is great, redemption is dandy, but when Canadians get the sense that criminals are getting off lightly, and that that problem can be made to go away by spending a mere few billion dollars, they will vote for that. People are tired of hearing about the murder suspect who was out on bail, the drunk driver who killed a woman after a dozen prior convictions or the sex criminal released back into the community after being pardoned. Building more prisons and filling them up might not be the best policy possible, but it’s good politics.

The Tories have a winner on their hands, and they know it. Rather than wasting effort attacking them for it, the opposition should instead ask themselves what it is about our justice system that led people to decide that thugs had more rights than citizens. Only when they come up with their own solution, one that recognizes the yearning of Canadians for true justice and security, will they have a vote-getter on their hands.

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